ALLEGHENY MONKEY FLOWER

One of the most fun responsibilities of members of Deering’s  Conservation Commission is the annual job of making sure that there have not been  transgressions on any of the fifteen or conservation easements (out of a total of around 130 conserved lots, a bit over 7000 acres) located in town.

Annual ‘walking’ the easements, basically walking around the perimeter or – – at least — walking along those boundaries that are most likely to be impacted by people, takes conservation commission members into those conserved lots that most people never see.  None of the conserved lots in town are very far from traveled roads, but – -as the saying goes – – 90% of the people never venture further than 20 yards from the road. The lots are mostly forested and few have marked trails. Once inside a 60 acre easement it is easy to forget that you are not in some isolated place despite the proximity of The World. Trying to determine the boundaries of an easement without using a GPS enabled device can be a challenge, although that is the way things were done until recently.

Titcomb easement outlined in red. My monitoring track in blue. Wetland crossing at the lower boundary.

The Titcomb easement is such a lot. The Titcomb easement, comprising 60 acres (average size of a conservation easement in Deering), was once the Harold Titcomb farm. In the 1920’s and 30’s the Titcomb Farm was noted as a commercial poultry farm, one of the few commercial operations in town. This easement is situated within the triangle formed by three Deering roads: on the west Deering Center Rd, on the north Clement Hill Rd, and on the east Dicky Hill rd.

North end of pond, the heart of the Titcomb Easement, in the fall of a normally wet year.

Traveling along those roads one would not imagine the beautiful wetland that lies just beyond the road and that makes up a large part of the easement. I got to experience the ‘wet’ part of the Titcomb wetland last week when I set out to walk the perimeter after heavy rain the previous day. Crashing through sensitive ferns is a wet job!. The southern boundary of the Titcomb Easement passes the edge of a large pond that is the heart of the wetland. For me and my monitoring it was at roughly the half way point. When I got to it I had to decide whether to avoid the wetland and pond by retracing my path, going way out of my way onto non conserved land to get around most of the wetland, or take advantage of this being a dry year and hope I could negotiate a thin beaver dam and step from grass tussock to tussock to get to the other side. That’s what I decided!

Crossing a beaver dam at the southern end of the big pond in the Titcomb Easement.
Looking back at the wetland I’d crossed at the southern end of the Titcomb Easement.

With my walking stick probing the way forward I was able to get half way across, on the berm of a  beaver dam when I started seeing pretty blue  flowers on low growing herbs. This beaver dam was a rickety sort of thing where a wet foot or leg – – or more — was a distinct possibility. At one point, though, there was enough room to settle  bit. Condense my stringy frame into a small sort of dry spot with the berm of the dam to my back and the open pond in front of me.

I love times like this. Especially so when the day is sunny, which this day was not.  It’s quiet there and the feeling of being – – alone, the ‘first,’ remote – – is exhilarating.  Dragon flies and water striders. Pond lilies and still water. Cat tails just now in flower and yellow swamp candles all about. I won’t say soporific (my foot was getting wet), but damned comforting to rest in that spot.  I’ve felt this way when I worked in tropical rain forests. Romantic stuff. Hear the cycle of nature. To sit quietly in a forest, alone: itt beats any sermon  I’ve ever heard.

But, back to those pretty blue flowers that seemed to be growing all around me in the Titcomn Easement . . .

These were Allegheny Monkey Flower, Mimulus ringens. Its blue flowers kind of look like snap dragons but are the two are not related.

The Latin name of Allegheny Monkey Flower, Mimulus  ringens, translates to buffoon (mimulus) that gapes (ringens). I guess this name was chosen because when the flowers are squeezed  they look like monkey faces or at least they must have to the great botanist Carolus Linnaeus, who described the species in the middle of the 18th Century.

This native species grows in full sun in wetlands over most of North America. It is a perennial plant that can get to 3 ft tall and has a square stem. The flowers are pollinated by bumble bees, but if the invasive purple loosestrife is growing nearby – – the two occupy the same habitat – –  Monkey Flower flowers might not get pollinated because the bumble bees choose the flowers of the invader.  Native Americans and early settlers are said to have used the  plant as greens.

Allegheny Monkey Flower is commercially available from several sources. It can make a lovely addition to your wetland garden.

Here are some pictures of Allegheny Monkey Flower.

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